Om Puri

Om (18 October 1950 – 6 January 2017)

We are a selfish people.

We remember others only when they die. It has nothing to do with the people who have passed on. The only reason we remember them is because a part of us dies with them.
It is no different when one reads about Om Puri’s passing on. I remember him not so much for what he was but for a purely selfish reason.

My first memory of Puri is of him being in a dilemma, switching on and off a table lamp in Ardh Satya. Of him reading Dilip Chitre’s poem, on which the film is titled, Half Truth.

In an inspired moment I wrote down the poem, translated it and then showed to a comrade who worked for the Communist Party’s Punjabi weekly newspaper. It so happened that at the same time, Santokh Singh Dhir, a well-known short story writer close to the CPI, was looking for someone to translate his poems from Punjabi into English for the Indian Express. This comrade connected the two of us, and I had my first claim to fame, as a half page supplement of the city’s Indian Express weekend edition carried the poems that I translated. I was in my teens.

My next memory is the film Aakrosh, in which he played the role of an adivasi whose tongue has been cut off. As idealist youngsters, we sympathized with him, his tongueless screech made us wrench and our blood boil. We felt like that bearded, kurta clad, jhola wielding, young man played by an actor whose name we never cared to find out- because we were him.

In those years, I grew up with Om Puri, whose pockmarked face captured the many pockmarks of our young, sometimes scared and sometimes hopeful adolescence.

As the news of his passing on sinks in, I remember him because a part of me goes with him.

It also awakens a part of me that time and age has camouflaged but never been able to kill.

A part that is alive.

Every obituary is also a celebration of what has survived.


Gurvinder Singh’s great gift to Punjabi Cinema Part II

(The second and last part of Punjabi writer Waryam Singh Sandhu’s review of Anhey Ghorey da Daan. Link to Part I)

The film narrates a story of one day. In reality as well as symbolically. Much of the story lies in understanding the meaning of the symbols. The film starts early in the morning and ends at midnight. But the dawn is not of “Remembering the Lord’s Name and High Thoughts’, but covered in soot. It is bitter and poisonous. Instead of peace, there is sorrow. There is tumult. The villagers are gathering. There is a powerful party that has purchased land for setting up a factory, they have razed to ground the worker Dharma’s house that was built there. Dharma’s family and his neighbours find this unjust. Brute force.

In Punjab and all over the country, this kind of brutality happens daily. Governments elected by the people themselves are party to this. Various industrial organizations and corporates are being given land. Villages upon villages are being uprooted. This is no longer the story of one village, but that of the entire country, where any protests against such brutality are answered with bullets and police batons. Poor Dharma is an easy prey. Behind the perpetrators stands the might of the state. Police jeeps, and uniformed men holding guns stand in the background. The new owner curses Dharma and, grinding his teeth, asks him to clear off ‘like a gentleman’.

The people of Dharma’s community come together and go to the village sarpanch (village head). They had to go. The lowermost representative of an elected government is the sarpanch. A member of the panchayat from their own community also accompanies them. Despite being aware of everything about the case, the sarpanch feigns ignorance. Instead, his men gather around him and curse Dharma’s men. They insult them. One of them holds a rifle in his hands.- a symbol of the power of those of wield it. Their moustaches are twisted up, bolstered up by their conceit. This is the outer face of the hidden political games that he has played.

Continue reading “Gurvinder Singh’s great gift to Punjabi Cinema Part II”

Gurvinder Singh’s great gift to Punjabi Cinema Part I

Waryam Singh Sandhu is a foremost Punjabi short story writer. These are his views on the film ‘Anhey Ghorey da Daan’. The author’s picture is by Gurvinder Singh.

by Waryam Singh Sandhu

A film based on Gurdial Singh’s novel ‘Alms for the Blind Horse’ (‘Anhey Ghorey da daan)’ is in the news. It has won a number of national and international awards. For the first time, Punjabi cinema has earned such honours. It has also won the national award for direction and cinematography. The film has come first among all languages in the national awards, and at the Abu Dhabi national awards, it has bagged the $50,000 award for direction and cinematography.

Recently, the film was shown at on the last day of the PIFF film festival at Rose Theatre in Brampton, near Toronto, Canada.

There is a big crowd at the theatre. I am told that the crowds were not so big for any of the previously shown films at the festival. When I enter the hall, the film has just started. The film is moving very slowly.There are no fast-changing scenes that rush through the film. The story is about the dalit community. In their everyday lives, there is nothing that is very dramatic that happens. So how could it happen in the story? Like the stagnant and stopped lives of those people, the story in the film too seems to move hesitantly.

Continue reading “Gurvinder Singh’s great gift to Punjabi Cinema Part I”

Anhey Ghorey Da Daan- A Review

It takes some time for the film to sink in, but when it does, Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse) has mastery written all over it.

That Anhey Ghorey belongs to niche contemporary cinema is not insignificant, even more striking is that the film is in Punjabi. This is a dissonance- the film in every way is far removed from what one expects from a Punjabi movie, or even the Hindi movies that Punjabis make.

Isn’t any movie in Punjabi about a Jatt on a revenge spree? Isn’t every Hindi movie with Punjab in the background about lush green fields swaying with bright mustard crops? If not about the big fat Punjabi weddings, isn’t it supposed to be about the valour of militant patriots like Bhagat Singh?

Based on a novel of the same name by Gurdial Singh, Anhey Ghorey presents a contrarian perspective- something that isn’t found in the Bollywoodized versions of Punjab. The story is not about the revenge of the Jatts, it is not about a militant valour either. It is a life that at best is stoic, and at its worst is impassive in the face of hardships. It shows one day in the life of a Mazhabi Sikh family that lives on the fringes. The characters don’t jump into a frenzy of song and dance every few minutes- instead they eek out a  precarious existence against a a volley of brutal attacks on their daily existence.

Continue reading “Anhey Ghorey Da Daan- A Review”

Nikolai Gogol

1st April seems to be an appropriate date to celebrate the 200th birth centenary of one of the great satirists of all times, Nikolai Gogol. Human nature, that of con men included, hasn’t changed much since his days.

Gogol’s prose is characterized by imaginative power and linguistic playfulness. As an exposer of the defects of human character, Gogol could be called the Hieronymus Bosch of Russian literature. (more)

Watch the entire film based on Gogol’s The Inspector General starring Danny Kaye (1949). Here is the first part:

Slumdog Millionaire- A Good- Bad Film

Amitabh Bachchan does not make an actual appearance in Slumdog Millionaire, though he purportedly signs an autograph for Jamaal, the main protagonist. Nevertheless, both he and Hindi cinema cast a long shadow on the film. Even the title consisting of binary opposite words is reminiscent of Hindi films like Gora aur Kaala, Raja aur Rank and so on. In the epic tradition of Hindi cinema, it has two brothers, one goes on to become a gangster and the other, predictably enough, the millionaire.

Based on the novel Q&A by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, it has an innovative plot based on the Indian clones of the American television show,  Who wants to be a millionaire? Jamaal, who has honed his ‘knowledge skills’ in the slums of Mumbai is the contestant who makes it to the end and wins the jackpot. The amazing thing is that he is an illiterate 18- year old who serves tea in a BPO.

Each question that he is subjected to in the show is followed by a flashback where an incident comes to Jamaal’s mind and he answers the question accurately, surprising everyone in the audience. For example, to the question about who wrote the bhajan darshan do ghansham, his answer is instantaneous- Surdas. The story behind that answer is longer, and macabre. One of Jamaal’s friends in the slums, Arvind, had been blinded by a local gangster who lived off the earnings of child beggars. The reason for his being blinded is that Arvind sang this bhajan very well and being blind makes him more “marketable”. The movie is very gripping in the first half as question after question in the show is followed by searing flashbacks like this. Subsequently, the film follows the well- trodden path- Jamaal wins the contest, finds his lady love and all ends happily.

There are other problems with the film. Continue reading “Slumdog Millionaire- A Good- Bad Film”

The First Drop of our Rain- Spartacus

Never spread democracy by force, let it always be by example.

I think Americans should participate in the responsibility of our past, present, and future.  A formal apology for the egregious treatment of African-Americans  before the Civil War and after – even to the present day – deserves an apology.  It would send an important message to the world.

It appalls me that racism still exists.  Even today, bigots are guilty of placing nooses on trees, using the “n” word, or expressing racism in other ways. Our formal apology for slavery would include all forms of slavery that exist in the world today.  We would send a message to the world that the United States is not too proud to admit our flaws or our mistakes.

– Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas, the actor who played the key role of Spartacus in the classic movie by the same name based on the first Roman slave revolt, now has  a blog at MySpace. The clip that appears below below is one of my favorites. (link via BBC)

Carry On, Kirk !

‘Turtles Can Fly’, a Kurdish Film by Bahman Ghobadi

One thing that does not make news about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is their debilitating impact on children. ‘Turtles Can Fly‘, (2005) a film made by Kurdish director Bahman Ghobadi, brings attention to that inglorious facet of war.

After watching this movie one shudders at the realization of how a whole generation, scarred, scalded, mutilated by war, is growing up in the middle east and other parts of the world.

Continue reading “‘Turtles Can Fly’, a Kurdish Film by Bahman Ghobadi”

Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears

Moscow does not believe in tears (1980) provides a rich view into the Soviet Union circa 1980 even as it is clearly inspired by French cinema of the time. It tells the very earthly story about three girls who have just come to Moscow in 1958 and then fast forwards twenty years later. What emerges is the portrait of a people with their own problems. There are no signs of a society crashing into an abyss that it was to a mere ten years after the movie was made. At the same time,there are no pretensions of a worker’s paradise either- decrepit roads, dilapidated cars, apartments in disrepair- all attest to a not so glorious condition.

There are barely crouched references to Breznevian rule. Gosha, who comes into Katya’s life towards the end of the movie comments says that everyone need not aspire to be a manager, or a leader and recalls the Roman emperor Diocletian who first established an autocratic rule in Rome and then gave up his empire to live in the countryside and grow cabbages, though interestingly in the movie he mentions him as a good ruler.

A good emperor by the way. At the height of his empire, he gave away the crown and settled down in the country. And when he was asked to take over again, he replied- “if you looked at the cabbages in my garden, you’d stop asking me.”

There is an underlying Soviet belief in the reduction of class antagonism, of a possibility of a woman rising to be the director of a big industrial plant- and a single mother at that. At the same time, there is an acceptance of patriarchal values, the authority that a man wields and that Gosha demands. Drunkenness among men, much prevalent during the Soviet years- as it is later, is very visible- with repeated declarations to drinking being a holy act.

It may be unfair to read too much into the movie with the wisdom of hindsight after the disintegration of the former USSR. But even without that, the movie comes out as an essentially humane one, and touches one. It’s music alone is worth listening to again and again, as I did long after I had watched the movie twice. But one cannot stop being where one is situated in time, and a final point on its relevance to Soviet society and its disintegration.

Soviet Union was not a paradise. Neither was it hell- it was a society that set too high a demand for itself and placed too many demands on its people to lead mankind into the future- there are repeated references to the future. “Chemistry is the future of the world”, says Katya, while Rudolph, the father of her daughter, claims that “TV is the future, when there will be no more theater, or books or movies.”

“The future? You should be thinking about the present”, says one of Katya’s friends.

The postponement of the self- whether of the individual, or a city- Moscow in this case, or a nation, is not always a fine thing.

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The Battle of Algiers- in Iraq

World Literature’s November issue has excerpts from “My Father, The Rebel”, written by Maissa Bey., the daughter of Larbi bin M’hidi on whom was based one of the characters in the film The Battle of Algiers, a  movie as disturbing today as it was when it was released in 1966. The daughter’s memoir about her father, who was tortured, denied a trail and hanged by the French colonialists during what was termed as the ‘Battle of Algiers’, is touching. The author’s father was summarily executed by the French colonialists, along with others like Larbi bin M’hidi, the FLN head on whom was based one of the characters in the movie The Battle of Algiers, a  movie as disturbing today as it was when first released in 1966.*

Screened at the Pentagon in 2003, the film has been subsequently re- released and has often been recalled in context of the Iraqi “resistance”. In the same issue of the magazine, the book’s translator Suzanne Ruta brings out a more gory dimension of the movie.

The film- released in 1966- could only speculate about the death of M’Hidi. Now we know that General Paul Ausssaresses, one of the commanding officers in Algiers that year, had him hanged at a farm outside the city a month after he was arrested. Ben M’Hidi died surrounded by his jailers, who denied him his last request, that he be allowed to die with his eyes open. They blindfolded him and then told the world that he had committed suicide in his jail cell with his necktie….. Protected by amnesties concluded in the 1960s, Aussaresses could not be persecuted for war crimes. But he was prosecuted successfully for ‘complicity in apology for war crimes’, along with his publisher, then stripped of his rank and the right to wear his uniform in public.

And yet, in the aftermath of 9/11 and in the run-up to the Iraq war, Aussaresses’s shocking book, in English translation, was studied by our (i.e. US) military as a contribution to the new debate on the uses of torture. “To cause sufferring is not the same as torture, no matter how intense or sustained the pain- as long as there is no other alternative and the pain is in proportion to the desired outcome”. This sounds like Rumsfield or Gonsalves. In fact, it is taken from instructions given his troops in Algiers in 1957 by Aussaresse’s colleague and mentor in the Battle of Algiers, Colonel Roger Trinquier. The resemblance is probably not accidental.

A note about the online World Literature site: limited pages available online, and whatever is there is in barely readable font color and the pages appear as image files! Apparently this is a further regression from the pdf files that used to appear earlier.

If you have not seen the movie, it is very highly recommended. It was much discussed when its director Gillo Pontecorvo passed away a year ago, on 22 Oct 2006.

In the trailer below, M’Hidi appears briefly 1:21s from the end (the bespectacled man speaking the sentence: “It is difficult to start a revolution, even more to sustain one and still more to win one.”)

youtube link

*Note: This blogger’s (imaginative!) deduction that Marissa Bey is Larbi bin M’hidi’s daughter, stands corrected by Suzanne Ruta who has commented:

Bey is NOT the daughter of Larbi Ben M’Hidi…the French tortured and summarily executed thousands of Algerian rebels, her father and Ben M’Hidi met the same fate, but M’Hidi was the head of the FLN in Algiers, Bey’s father was a school- teacher in el Boghari…I took a round about way into the subject, sorry if it wasn’t clear. Part I is about Algeria and the ways its history has been used lately by the Pentagon, part II is about Bey.

Also the essay stands by itself, Bey hasnt written a book length memoir about her father, but she has written a number of novels, all marked by early trauma.

glad to see people are reading WLT. best wishes, S Ruta

Thanks for the correction, Suzanne! And thanks, of course, for the translation and the essay.

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Gulzar as a Poet and Lyricist

“Tum shayar nahin hotey, toh bahut hi ordinary aadmi hotey”(Had you not been a poet, you would have been a very ordinary man”

These are the words of Aarti Devi, the ambitious, Indira Gandhi- like character in the movie Aandhi, directed towards her husband. The dialogues for this movie were written by Gulzar, and apparently this dialogue is inspired from the actual words that his wife once made in real life to him.

I personally do not have a very high opinion of Gulzar as a poet. In my opinion, Gulzar is far better as a dialogue writer than as a poet. As a poet, he is awkward, plays around with words that sound very well but have little or no poetic embellishment, sometimes making simple things sound more complex.

It still makes him a very fine lyricist, though, because music works as a distraction from the words, and then there are those flashes of brilliance. Take for example, one of the otherwise very fine songs: Humne dekhi hain in aankhon se mehakti khushboo”- eyes that smell like flowers? I find this one difficult to swallow. One can pull out many other examples, and probably this will be the subject of another post.

This post, however, brings out some discussions on his lyrics from deep down the internet archives- I first read them in the mid- 1990s, and this thread pertained to comparisons between Sahir Ludhianvi and Gulzar. The internet browsing community then was dominated by the fans of Sahir, I have a feeling that the tables have now turned and Sahir is less popular than Gulzar. A whole generation has grown up without listening to Sahir as much as it has  listened to Gulzar. The fact that Sahir died nearly three decades ago, and his best work was in the 1950s and 60s, makes sound him far less contemporary than Gulzar.

Sami Mohammad satirized Gulzar’s style in this interesting re- write of some of Sahir’s popular lyrics in the style of Gulzar. The thread was called “Gulzar becomes Sahir”. The style that Sami has chosen is more like the Gulzar of the 1970s and 1980s, I’d wager that the Gulzar post 1990s is more mature as a lyricist.


PART I: Gulzar’s extraordinary vocabulary! (Words such as bartan, chappal, taxi,
bus, train, etc)

S. Sahir
G. Gulzar

1S. Haseen champaee pairon ko jabse dekha hai
Nadi ki mast sadaen bula rahi hain tumhe

1G. Haseen champaee pairon ko jabse dekha hai
Bata ki Hawaai chappal bula rahi hai tumhe

2S. Dil ki bechaen umangon pe karam farmaao
Itna ruk ruk ke chalogi to quayaamat hogi

2G. Tum aaoge to noor aa jaega
Itna ruk ruk ke chalogi to local train chooT jaegi

4S. Aap jo phool bichae unhe hum THukraaen
Humko Dar hai ke ye tauheen-e-mohabbat hogi

4G. Tumne to aakaash bichaaya
Mere nange paaon me zamin ki gard hai
Mohabbat maili ho jaegi

5S. Pyaar par bas to nahin hai mera lekin phir bhi
Tu bataade main tujhe pyaar karun ya na karun

5G. In pyaar ki lambi sadkon par, public bus to chalti nahin phir bhi
Jo ghoomti phirti rehti hain, main woh taxi hire karun ya na karun

PART II: The complex Gulzar. Simple things expressed in an unnecessarily
complex manner. “Ghoomake dena” !

6S. Lo aaj humne toR diya rishta-e-ummeed
Lo ab gila karenge na kisi se hum

6G. Neele aakaash ke ghoonsle par jo ummeed ke boodhe baba thhe unhe humne
alvida keh diya
Duniya ke samandar ko gile-shikwon ki boondh se na chheRenge hum

7S. Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao to ye haq hai tumko
Meri baat aur hai maine to mohabbat ki hai

7G. Sust raste aur tez quadam raahen tumhe meri yaad nahin dilaae to kya
Pathhar ki haweli se sheeshe ke gharondon tak meri rooh tumhaare ehsaas ko
mehsoos karegi

8S. GHam aur KHushi me farq na mehsoos ho jahan
Main dil ko us muquaam pe laata chala gaya

8G. GHam ka kinara jahan KHushi ke kinare se bachkar kinare se milta hai
Usi kinare par maine apne dil ke kinare ko kinare laga diya

9S. Tum agar mujhko na chaaho to koi baat nahin
Tum kisi aur ko chahogi to mushkil hogi

9G. Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin lekin
Barfili sardion me kisi bhi pahaad par
Bhool bhulayyan galion me kisi ajnabi ke saath
Tumhe uRte hue dekhunga to mushkil hogi

10S. M: Hum aapko KHwaabon me la la ke sataenge
F: Hum aapki aankhon se neenden hi uRaden to ?

10G. M: Hum aapko KHwaabon me la la ke sataenge

F: Aankhon me neend na hogi, aansu hi tairte honge
Aansu ke samandar me neend ki naaov (boat) nahin aa paaegi

PART III: The ultra-complex Gulzar. Jab kuchh samajhme na aae, then use
contradictory lines to make things look profound.

11S. Hum intezaar karenge tera quayamat tak
KHuda kare ke quayamat ho aur tu aae

11G. Koi waada nahin kiya lekin, kyun tera intezaar rehta hai
Tere aa jaane ke baad bhi, hume tera intezaar rehta hai

12S. Main pal do pal ka shaer hun
Pal do pal meri kahani hai
Pal do pal meri hasti hai
Pal do pal meri jawani hai

13G. Main pal do pal ka shaer hun
Woh pal, jo aanewaala thha, lekin jaanewaala bhi hai
Jab main isme zindagi bitane ki sonchta hun
To duniya mujhpe hansti hai

More on the Sahir vs Gulzar discussions.

Related posts

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Watching Parzania

I have to admit that the first time I tried to watch Parzania a month or so back, I had to switch off the movie after less than midway- as saffron flags wave and Hindutva mobs start attacking the building where little Parzan lives with his parents and sister.

Today, I did not have the heart to watch from the beginning and began from where I had left off- the scene where Asif’s 75- year old father is butchered to death by the mob.

One cannot but feel utterly helpless while watching the movie- and realizing that it tells of an event that has occurred in so recent memory makes one shudder.

The scenes showing the mobs going on rampage, and the one later when the National Human Rights Commission team listens to one person after the other narrate how “helpful” and “active” the police had been are particularly nauseating and make one lose faith in the reality around us. Only the middle section where the parents frenziedly search for their son are, surprisingly, less tension ridden, at least for the viewer.

It is ironical that the first person who speaks up against the inaction of the police during the proceedings of the Commission is a bootlegger in Gandhi’s dry state.

Earlier there is a shot where Naseeruddin Shah’s face is juxtaposed against Gandhi’s picture on the wall of the police station where he goes for help in finding Parzan.

The picture in the police station of Gandhi with his toothless smile looked out of place.

Gandhi could not have been born in Gujarat.

A review of the movie

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In Lieu of Reading

What does a compulsive reader do on a 14 hour flight without a working reading light?

He first wrings his hand, then switches on the movie channel in exasperation, watches two flicks, Salaam e Ishk and Vivah, thanks the Lord for having kept away from Bollywood cinema for long, wrings his hands again, changes channels and ends up watching two movies that morph the whole travail into a godsend gift.

Here is a trailer of the movie Pan’s Labyrinth (El Laberinto del fauno, in original Castilian Spanish)- the fantastical, if nightmarish story of a modern day Alice in the ‘wonderland’ of fascist Spain, and following it, that of The Painted Veil, based on Somerset Maugham’s novel and set in Shangai 1925 and, IMHO, should have been called Love in the Time of Cholera.

Youtube Link

Youtube Link

The Sancho Panza of Hindi Cinema: Johnny Walker

One of the actors whom one has not ceased to admire since childhood is Johnny Walker.

What I admire about him is his natural impishness, and despite not so handsome looks, a felicity to bring a certain effusiveness on the screen whenever he made an appearance. In an age when the hero of the film was more often than not a tragic one like Dilip Kumar, or the disillusioned one like Guru Dutt, generally wallowing in unrequited love or unrequited idealism, if not not both, he provided the more earthly, and sometimes hedonistic, perspective on life, and an always disarming laughter.

If the heroes bore the mantle, as they did in my view, of Don Quixote, Johnny Walker was the eternal plebian, the Sancho Panza- helping out the hero when he was in trouble because of some damsel, the one who managed to hoodwink the villain (generally Pran) and bring in police or reinforcements, not caring about principles when trying to help his friend, the hero- and always playing the archetypal true friend who more often than not managed to find his own love of life in the end, in case he was already not a hen- pecked husband to Tun Tun.

It is not out of place either when his biting sense of humour could provide an insightful look into contemporary society. Balraj Sahni quotes Johnny Walker in this 1972 speech addressed to the students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and re- printed recently:

“They should not announce ‘Ab Hindi main samachar suniye’, the announcers on the radio should say ‘Ab samachar main Hindi suniye'”

This one comment on the news bulletins on government of India owned radio of those days says a lot on the language politics in India.

Incidentally, Johnny Walker’s whose real name was Badruddin Jamaluddin Kazi had been discovered by Balraj Sahni.

I was reminded of Johnny Walker after reading Rama’s post on Pyaasa.

A few clips of some of the well known songs, in the very mellifluous voice of Mohammad Rafi.

Update: I just found this one. Were it not for Johnny Walker, this would be a very sad song indeed. Just his presence turns the mood of the song upside down.

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Unfinished Piece for the Piano Player

Unfinished Piece for the Piano Player” is not so much based on a play by Anton Chekov as much a play based on Chekov’s short stories and hence a very Chekovian play.

A number of characters meet over a weekend at a country estate where Mikhail Platonov, a village school teacher, undergoes an emotional crisis that is summed up best in his own words:

Oh God !

Now I am know for sure, it’s enough to betray just once, just once to be unfaithful to what you believed in and what you loved and you would never get rid of the succession of betrayals and lines !

… Not that, not that, I am thirty five ! Everything’s ruined !

Lermontov had already been in his grave for eight years ! Napolean was a general !
And I have done nothing in this damned life of yours. Where is my true self ? I am a good for nothing cripple! Where is my strength, my mind, my talent? A wasted life!

Oh ! You are here too, the keeper of a fire that isn’t even smouldering…
but you have no choice, just like myself… a nobody ! And I am just like all of you here !

A fine masterpiece from the Soviet years, it brims with the intensity of character that only the Russians were (are?) capable of.

Image Source

‘Il Postino’, Pablo Neruda and Makhdoom

“And it was at that age…Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.”
Pablo Neruda

‘Il Postino‘ (The Postman) is a movie about a fumbling postman whose job is to deliver mail to Pablo Neruda while the latter is in exile on an island in Italy. This is partly fictitious. I don’t have his autobiography with me so I cannot verify about this incident if at all it is mentioned in the book, I don’t remember reading about it.

Mario watches a documentary news item in a cinema recounting the journey of Neruda to Italy. When he is asked to deliver mail to him, he gets interested in Neruda’s poetry so that he too, like Neruda, can “impress the girls”.

Starting with this rather innocuous motive, he begins to understand the art of writing poetry and imbibes ideas from Neruda himself. The dialogues are wonderful and the interactions between the postman and the Poet are a delight every time Mario goes to deliver mail to Neruda. The rustic intelligence of Mario is pitted against the wisdom of the Neruda and the brilliance comes through despite the translation.

There area couple of sentences that I particularly liked. Mario takes a poem from Neruda to impress a girl he likes (called Beatrice). When Neruda castigates him for doing so, he responds with the following, leaving the poet speechless:

Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it, it belongs to those who need it

Later, his friendship with Neruda evolves and he starts understanding “complex” words like “metaphors” and starts writing poetry himself. Neruda also helps him in convincing Beatrice to marry him. When the priest discovers that Mario wants Neruda, a well known communist, as his best man, he is outraged:

Priest: Find yourself a person who isn’t a communist. If Neruda doesn’t believe in God, why should God believe in Neruda. What sort of a witness would he be?

Mario: God never said a communist can’t witness at a wedding

The movie is peppered with snippets from Neruda’s poetry. Here is a short (abou 9 minutes) clip available at youtube where Neruda composes a poem, and Mario begins to interpret it. At the end he makes a powerful comment:

Is it that the whole world is a metaphor for something else?

The clip:

A spoiler here, so don’t proceed if you intend to watch the movie yourself), Mario is invited to attend a communist demonstration and dies there. At the end of the movie, Pablo Neruda returns and finds that Mario’s son, born after he has died, is named Pablito.

Mario also records the sounds of his islands to send them on tape to Neruda. This clip captures that recording.

Needless to say, it has been one of the best movies that I have seen for a long time (not that I watch much), it is perhaps also the only movie I was able to watch without any break- and it was twice in two days.

Incidentally, the role of Mario was played by the actor- writer Massimo Troisi who died one day before the movie was released. He had deferred his heart treatment so that he could complete the movie (from Wikipedia)

‘Il Postino’ reminded me of a similar episode in the life of Makhdoom Mohiuddin, the communist poet from Hyderabad. It was recounted in the TV serial Kahkashan, and what I recollect is recounted here.

When the CPI was banned in 1948, Makhdoom was incarcerated in a jail where his cellmate was a young man who had been jailed in trumped up charges by the family of a girl he was in love with. Makhdoom leads him via his poetry to become politically educated. The young man is somehow released and Makhdoom as well, after a gap. Years later, while passing by a town he is informed of the sacrifice of a young man and a woman during the Telengana struggle. Makkhdoom finds the graves of the young man who had been his cellmate and beside his grave, that of that of the girl he had loved.

Makhdoom wrote a very moving nazm when he saw this.

The Kahkashan version is here, it has also been used in a Bollywood film Cha Cha Cha.

Thanks to HD for recommending the movie.

The Dreams of Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990) is said to be based on his own dreams, it is therefore a collection of 8 short vignettes and not a film with a well drawn plot like the Seven Samurai.

The first sequence “Sunshine through the rain”is what Kurosawa is supposed to have had as a child and indeed, this and the second one “The Peach Orchard” are most poignant.

And “The Tunnel” where the ghosts of the men that the army commander has sent out to die haunt him. “You may think you were heroes, but you died like dogs”, he tells the still obedient ghosts.

He is chased by a barking dog with bombs strapped around it towards the end of the sequence. One wonders what personal aspect from Kurosawa’s life comes in in this sequence.

I personally liked the one based on Van Gogh’s painting “The Crows”- a self- portrait of the artist underlining his commitment to art. This one has some of the most ravishing moments in the movie- as the young man wades through some of Van Gogh’s paintings, I understand that this is where Spielberg’s special effects were used- to a most dramatic effect.

The opening scene is also reminiscent of the writer in Shyam Benegal’s Sooraj Ka Saatvaan Ghoda whose memory of his younger days is revived while looking at a painting .

In “Blizzard” it is the super human effort of a team of mountaineers who finally reach their camp after surviving a blizzard- again something that brings out the tenacity of purpose.

Mt Fuji in Red and The Weeping Demon bring out the horrors of a nuclear holocaust- it has to be remembered Kurosawa came from the only country that has experienced the devastation caused by two atomic bombs but also that the peace movement was a major involvement for many before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.

“Village of the Watermills” is both a requiem to himself as well as a most enigmatic work in the film. If this is a dream that Kurasawa had when he was very old and approaching the end of his life, it is understandable since the sequence shows a blissful village untrampled by technology and where cows and horses are used in place of tractors and candles in place of electricity- “for people grow used to convenience”- an old, 103 year old man lectures to the young man who is passing by the village.

The work is engimatic because no such idyllic, self- contained village has ever existed, a village too has its social classes and its constant struggle with nature. Indeed, Kurasawa must have been aware of this contradiction- for the old man mentions in passing that no one actually lived in the village.

Before watching the movie, I was unsure how Kurosawa would handle a film in color, having been familiar with his work in black and white- and the least one can say is that he has handled it with the aplomb of the genius that he demonstrated in his black and white films. The painting- like frames rescue even the most dreary of the sequences from banality.

If more people had dreams like Akira Kurosawa- and made movies like he did, I would be glued to the cinema.

The Village of the Watermills Part I (from Youtube)

The Village of the Watermills Part II (from Youtube)

Thanks to Rajesh for having prodded me into watching Dreams
Van Gogh’s Painting “The Crows” Source
Akira Kurosawa’s image Source


Yesteryear actress Nadira was hospitalised in Mumbai’s Bhatia Hospital, five days ago, following a mild stroke.

One is surprised to find that little attention has been paid to Nadira, the actress of Bagdadi Jewish origin who was immortalised in the song “mud mud ke na dekh” in the movie Shree 420, certainly the most powerful of Raj Kapoor’s early cinema that bore the mark of not only Raj Kapoor, but many others among them Khawaja Ahmad Abbas.

The song is picturised tantalizingly on Nadira as the hero (Raj Kappor) struggles to decide between Maya (Nadira) and Vidya (Nargis), between the bourgeios (“Maya”) and the plebian (“Vidya”). His choice falls on Maya. Few moments in Indian cinema have been as poignant and stark as this particular song.

It stuck me that she is 74, that means that she must have been little over 25 when she acted in that movie.

One wishes Nadira a speedy recovery and a long life.

Ritwik Ghatak Remembered

The legendary filmamker would have been 80 this year. Saibal Chatterjee writes:

Ghatak rarely tasted commercial success. Ironically, he had set out to make films because of the reach of the medium. He had begun his creative career in the theatre as a member of the Indian People’s Theatre Association. He even dabbled in a bit of literature before homing in on filmmaking as the medium of choice.

Ghatak had much to say about the pain of deracination and its social, economic and moral fallout – the Dhaka-born filmmaker was a victim of the Partition – and he needed a medium of the power and penetration of cinema.

The Bicycle Thief

I have never been able to watch a movie for more than 15 minutes, except for a few years in college when the parallel cinema held me in awe for some time before I returned to my first love- books. It still remains for me an adjunct to literature and the written word. And I have been able to supplement some of my reading via this medium.

My current stay in the US is not without its advantages and I have been able to watch at least half a dozen movies that I always heard or read about. Among them is The Bicycle Thief (or Thieves as it probably is titled in the original). I find the movie fascinating, and no wonder it is held as the harbinger of neo- realist cinema.

Besides the technical finesse- usage of real locations and non- real actors and hence real people, De Cica manages to make even the most unreal character in the movie- the fortune teller- a real, an almost mundane person. Much better has been written about the movie than perhaps I can write and hence would refer the interested reader to other sites.

I have watched a few others in the last couple of months- some of the works of Akira Kurasawa and a number of movies starring Anthony Hopkins. About them, perhaps later.